The Trail Of Waitangi

Muskets and Cannibalism:

(i) Temorenga and Warfare

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It was in the early part of the 1800's that a French ship visited the Bay of Islands in New Zealand, and while its crew were ashore cutting wood a number of them were murdered by the natives. This resulted in a fearful retaliation from the crew in which many natives were shot from the ships boats.

On another occasion a similar occurence took place, and after the massacre of a ship's crew, boats from whaling ships in the Bay of Islands were sent to take their vengeance on the tribe supposed to be responsible.

One of the most powerful Mäori chiefs in the area at this time was named Temorenga, a chief with more than just one score to settle, for as well as being beaten in battle by his enemies from the eastern Waikato, his niece had recently been captured and later eaten by a chief from Tauranga named Te Waru.

It was now becoming very apparent to Temorenga how he could gain supremacy over his enemies through the possession of muskets, and it wasn't long before he began trading with whaling and other ships that were visiting the area. It was about 16 years after the death of his niece that he decided the time was right for his revenge, and gathering a force of 600 men he travelled to Tauranga where he informed Te Waru that he had come to seek satisfaction for the death of his niece. Te Waru's reply was, "If that is the object of your expedition, the only satisfaction I shall give you will be to kill and eat you."

The following day the two parties met each other in battle. Temorenga instructed his men not to fire until he gave the word. He had thirty-five muskets, and Te Waru was only depending on his native weapons. Waru charged with a shower of spears, only wounding one man, and then Temorenga ordered his own men to fire, and twenty of Waru's men, including two chiefs, fell dead at the first volley. Waru's party was immediately thrown into disorder and fled.

Temorenga was now satisfied, but his friends decided that Te Waru should be punished for his insolent language. Te Waru's force was not wanting peace either, and on the next day he attacked Temorenga again, only to have a large number of his men slain within a short time. Many of his men were driven into the sea and perished, and there were between 300 and 400 left dead on the field of battle, with 260 made prisoners. Waru had been completely conquered, and fled into the bush.

After this the victors remained three days on the field of battle, feeding upon the slain, and then sailed with their prisoners and Waru's canoes to the Bay of Islands.

The practice of cannibalism appears to have been universal, and a missionary, the Rev. Samuel Marsden writes:

"I have met with no family, but some branches of it had been killed in battle and afterwards eaten. If any chief falls into the hands of a tribe which he has oppressed and injured, by the chance of war, they are sure to roast and eat him; and after devouring his flesh, they will preserve his bones in the family as a memento of his fate, and convert them into fish-hooks, whistles, and ornaments. The custom of eating their enemies is universal. The origin of it is now too remote to be traced. The natives generally speak of it with horror and disgust, yet they expect that this will be their own fate in the end, as it has been with their forefathers and friends. I represented to them how much their national character suffered in the opinion of all civilised nations from this horrid custom, and many regretted that it should be the practice of their country, and said that when they knew better they would leave it off. If the head of a tribe is killed and eaten, the survivors consider it the greatest disgrace that can befall them; and in their turn they seize the first opportunity to retaliate."

Collated from a string of events described in pages 23-35 of "Christianity Among The New Zealanders" by The Right Rev. William Williams, DCL. Bishop of Waiapu. (1867).

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